54: How Jeopardy! Changed My Life

54: How Jeopardy! Changed My Life

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Empowered Woman

How Jeopardy! Changed My Life

Never did the world make a queen of a girl who hides in houses and dreams without traveling.

~Roman Payne

The last time my (now ex) husband boarded a plane was when he flew back to the States from the Vietnam War. As he says, if they’d had a bus, he would’ve taken that instead. When I married him, I knew he’d never fly again, but figured car trips in our home state of Colorado could keep us busy for years — which they did. And, truth be told, I wasn’t that crazy about flying, either. I was more than happy to ride shotgun or play with our son in the back seat while postcard scenery streamed past our windows.

A few years ago, however, I made the cut in an on-line Jeopardy! quiz and was invited to San Francisco to participate in a mock game and audition. If I wanted a shot at being on my favorite TV game show, I’d have to get to San Francisco. Driving was out; I don’t like driving across town, let alone across the Continental Divide. So I’d have to fly. Thus began the process of learning to travel solo.

I know, I know. In this day and age, it’s routine — if not de rigueur — for a woman to travel on her own. In fact, before my marriage, I’d flown alone several times. But there was always someone to meet me at the airport, help me with my luggage and drive me to my aunt’s house or wherever I might be staying. I’d never flown to a city where I’d be completely on my own. Besides, after two decades of car travel, I was rusty and intimidated by the complications of flying post-9/11.

Before I could fly anywhere, though, I needed a reservation, and to make a reservation, I needed a credit card — which I did not have. I know, I know! But I’d heard so many cautionary tales about the evils of plastic that I was leery of them, too.

Pay it off every month, I warned myself. Don’t go overboard. It’s only for emergencies. If Jeopardy! wasn’t an emergency, though, I didn’t know what was. I took the plunge and was given a $15,000 line of credit — an exhilarating whiff of freedom.

After making the plane reservations, I had to figure out where to stay, how to get to and from the Denver airport as well as the airport in San Francisco, and how to get from my lodgings to the hotel where the Jeopardy! try-outs would be held. I considered staying at that hotel, but it was downtown and expensive. Besides, I wanted to be near Ocean Beach so I could walk along the shore, gaze out at the Pacific Ocean and treat myself to dinner at the Cliff House, where I’d been eons ago as a college student.

Online, I found a bed-and-breakfast within easy walking distance of Ocean Beach, and calculated the expense and logistics of shuttles and cabs. And, despite Henry David Thoreau’s admonition to “Beware of all enterprises that require new clothes,” I bought a cute game show outfit.

The awaited June morning finally arrived, and I was almost as nervous as a bride. But everything went like clockwork:

My house to airport parking, check.

Airport parking to Denver airport, check.

Denver airport to San Francisco airport, check.

San Francisco airport to bed-and-breakfast, check.

B&B to hotel, check.

Hotel back to B&B, check.

B&B to San Francisco airport, check.

San Francisco airport to Denver airport, check.

Denver airport to airport parking, check.

Airport parking to my house, check.


Of course, many small adventures and encounters — not to mention the audition itself — were woven around my checklist. The people, the places, the sights of that magical city seemed to conspire to make my trip to San Francisco as delightful as possible. And I did not embarrass myself at the audition, which had been my main worry. Leaving the hotel after the try-out, I felt strong and capable.

I can do this, I thought. I am doing this! An attractive young couple even asked me for directions — and I was able to help them! I celebrated the day — and my burgeoning independence — with a wonderful dinner at the Cliff House, where I could watch the ocean out the window, feeling as if San Francisco had wrapped its arms around me.

Soon after my trip to San Francisco, the short plays I was writing began to get produced in places like Palm Springs, California; Kansas City, Missouri; and even New York City. If I wanted to see my plays, which I certainly did, I’d have to get to the theater myself.

I found myself traveling more and more, letting the roulette wheel of a play’s production determine where I went. In one of the smaller cities — Grand Junction, Colorado — I even rented a car! Usually, though, I prefer to take cabs and shuttles, and I walk whenever and wherever possible. Most of the encounters that make a trip special seem to occur when one is on foot.

I never heard back from Jeopardy!. At the time, I didn’t have a cell phone (no surprise), and they had warned they wouldn’t leave a message. I console myself by thinking that they tried and failed to reach me. Whether they did or didn’t is immaterial. Jeopardy! was the beginning of a process that now allows me to visit cities where the only people I know are characters on a stage. The ability to travel alone — to arrange the details with confidence and handle the unexpected with aplomb — turned out to be the best prize of all.

~Kristine McGovern

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